The students in the College Program bring with them a wide array of life experiences, but common themes include resilience, grit, and fortitude. Ninety-two percent of our students report they experienced a gap in their earlier schooling. The following essay recounts one student’s educational pathway.
I began my primary education in 1965, in the public school system of Tuscon, AZ. I was taught the “Three Rs:” arithmetic, reading, and writing. In jr. high school, I showed promise in my athleticism, so my teachers did not push me academically. When I entered high school, I used my muscles from the neck down, because that is what seemed to be required of me. I was a mediocre student when it came to studying any part of the curriculum in high school. In fact, all I had to do was show up for class.
At the tender age of 16, I had two devastating tragedies. The first event: my mother passed away from open heart surgery and I did not handle her death well. I had one foot in school and the other foot in the school of hard knocks (sidewalk high school). The second event: I totaled a car and messed up my right foot and left knee. I was in a lot of pain (mentally, physically, and spiritually). I began self-medicating with alcohol and licit or illicit drugs to dull my senses. I spiraled out of control and eventually ended up in prison. There were some vocational trades being offered, but most of them were obsolete. It was like being put on a shelf until the release date. I became a repeat offender for the lack of confidence and self-worth.
In 1993, I acquired a GED in prison, and yet I lounged in the CA Dept of Corrections (Rehabilitation was added in 2007). The CDC system had nothing to rehabilitate a person other than religious services and the library. I decided to take advantage of those subjects to rehabilitate myself by learning to speak Spanish, some Arabic, and man’s fallible laws.
I came to San Quentin at the end of 2011 and enrolled in the Prison University Project’s College Program. It took a little over two years to get called for an assessment for placement. I fared better in English than in math. I was placed in 99A to acclimate myself in the structure of writing. I found everyone in this program wanting to see us learn and succeed in the curriculum as well as in life. I have a fever/spark that has been ignited and there is no rest for the weary — I have learned quite a lot of things about world views and most importantly myself.
I am grateful for this opportunity because it has changed me from a cocky individual to a self-assured individual. My extended family can hear and see a different person today. I have a deep appreciation and gratitude for everyone who sees the need to educate and reform what seem to be society’s “throwaways.”